Bringing the world to camp: Aldersgate campers hear Malala

August 01, 2016

Malala Yousafzai spends each July 12 – her birthday, which has been dedicated Malala Day by the United Nations – visiting some of the women and girls for whom she advocates.

While the Nobel Peace Prize winner could get reports about the situations in Nigeria or Lebanon or Kenya, she said that “to go and see through your own eyes is completely different.”


Jenn Becker Carpenter, executive director of the New England Conference’s Camp Aldersgate in Rhode Island, feels the same way; and that’s why she began planning in February to take 180 campers, staff, board members, and others to hear Malala speak in Providence on July 28, 2016.

“[We want to] teach the kids about global life and bring the world to them,” Carpenter said. “Otherwise they’re going to have this very narrow view of the world. To be able to widen their view is very important for us as a ministry.”

Muslim Chaplain Mary Lahaj and Naser Farahmand who is from Afghanistan talked with the campers before and after they heard Malala.

Carpenter said inviting Muslims into a Christian community offered a chance to learn “not about the differences, but how we can, together, change the world for the better.”

“If we don’t understand other faiths, we’re not going to be able to understand our own faith and what our own faith walk is,” she said. “It really deepens our
T-shirts designed for the event.
own spirituality not just to be able to understand others, but to practice with them and alongside them. That’s just a rich spiritual experience.” 

Tallessyn Grenfell-Lee, a volunteer whose daughters are Aldersgate campers, said of Malala, “It’s really inspiring to see someone so young who took something tragic and turned it into an opportunity to make a big difference in the world. It helps these kids feel inspired that they can really become leaders in healing. And that’s part of our duty as Christians …”

Listening to campers talk about going to see Malala, it was evident they had indeed been inspired by her story.

Robby, 10, said he was excited to see her because “she was shot in the face and survived.” Carpenter said that “Be strong like Malala” was an expression that had begun circulating at camp.

Marissa, 15, said she’d read Malala’s book (“I am Malala”) and had learned about her in school.

“I thought she was a good person and really empowering, and I like how courageous she is,” she said.

Asked why it’s important to meet people of other faiths, Nicolai, 13, said: “If people don’t get together, how are we supposed to share the world with each other?”

Liv, 14, said: “She’s a very inspiring young woman and she can inspire many of us to follow in her footsteps and make a change in this world. I think that she has inspired me. Maybe I won’t do as much as she did, but I’ll try.”

And Malala, speaking to the audience of 6,000 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, encouraged those aspirations:
Malala speaking in Providence, RI

My message to young people here is you don’t have to be someone really special, you don’t have to have gotten big, big degrees or diplomas to do something in your society, to do something in your community. Believe in your work from right now, and start conveying from right now the change you want to see in your society, the change that you want to see in your future.”

She urged young people to “always believe in yourself.”  And said that to bring about change “all you need is people’s support and a voice.”

The trip to hear Malala was preceded by a visit from Farahmand, a nurse, who has lived in the U.S. since 2011. He said it’s important for people of different faiths to come together.

“We are sharing one world and that world is really small now, and if we do not live together, we cannot live long,” he said.

He told campers about growing up in Afghanistan, and said he hopes that the campers will gain an appreciation for the opportunities they have then “think on the kids that don’t have the opportunity. Think about them, talk about them, and, where possible, help them.”

Karen Pehrson chairs the Aldersgate board of directors. What Farahmand described is what she sees as the overall goal for Aldersgate in developing these interfaith experiences.

Bringing children of all faiths together, she said, helps them to become global citizens who have an awareness of social justice issues and understand the
Mary Lahaj and Naser Farahmand 
impact our actions have on children around the world.

“We’re not trying to scare kids by talking about these issues [such as terrorism]” Pehrson said. “We want to alleviate the demonization of the Muslim community, and best way I know of is to have face-to-face encounters.”

Both Pehrson and Carpenter talked about the campers’ requests for more opportunities to meet people of other faiths.

“They were so thirsty for it,” Carpenter said. “I feel like this is the tip of the iceberg. These kids now are really hungry and know that it’s possible to have an experience that can not only strengthen their faith walk, but also walk side by side with someone of a different faith and also have their faith walk strengthened as well.”

During her roughly 90-minute appearance Malala talked about the importance of hearing others’ stories.

“Sharing stories is so important – we’re separated from each other based on religion, culture, standard of living … we need to remember that after all these things, we’re all human beings, we share the same feelings,” she said. “When we talk about globalization and coming together … this world has a beauty of diversity, and this is something we need to appreciate and celebrate, and we need to take advantage of it. It is amazing to see how different cultures can come together and learn from each other. To me this is beauty.”

Malala’s words and the response from the campers, Carpenter said, makes her believe “there’s hope for this next generation; they want it to be about love and they want to get along. They just need us adults to get out of their way.”